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A.M. No.

RTJ-11-2275, March 08, 2016 respondent Judge Lilagan has still yet to resolve the Motion for
Reconsideration. 1
SPOUSES CESAR AND THELMA SUSTENTO, Complainants, v. JUDGE
FRISCO T. LILAGAN, Respondent. On the basis of the foregoing, the complainants have charged the
respondent with undue delay in the resolution of the petition
for certiorari they had filed to assail the adverse order issued by Judge
DECISION
Sylvia Z. Pocpoc-Lamoste of the Municipal Trial Court in Cities (MTCC),
Branch 1, in Tacloban City in Civil Case No. 2008-05-CV-08
BERSAMIN, J.: entitled Wilfreda Pontillan v. Spouses Cesar Sustento and Thelma
Sustento, and undue delay in the resolution of their motion for
A judge is mandated to resolve with dispatch the cases and matters in reconsideration beyond the prescribed 90-day period in violation of the
his court, mindful that any delay in their disposition erodes the faith of Administrative Circular No. 38-98 and Section 15, Article VIII of the
the people in the judicial system. Constitution. They have further charged him with having issued the
order of September 15, 2009 dismissing their petition for certiorari
Antecedents without passing upon the issues raised in the petition by making
findings of fact bereft of factual basis, and relying on information that
The Office of the Court Administrator (OCA) summarized the were immaterial and irrelevant to the petition. 2
antecedents as follows:
Later on, the complainants withdrew their charge against the
x x x In the Administrative Complaint dated 05 July 2010 filed by respondent through their motion dated October 7, 2010, 3 stating that
Spouses Cesar and Thelma Sustento, it was averred that the said complainant Thelma Sustento had decided "to give herself a softer
complainants concurrently appear as the "Defendants" in an Unlawful atmosphere to focus more on the appeal of the main case from which
Detainer case ("Wilfreda Pontillan vs. Spouses Cesar Sustento and this complaint emanates."4
Thelma Sustento," Civil Case No. 2008-05-CV-08, filed before the
Municipal Trial Court in Cities, Branch 1, Tacloban City, Leyte) as well as In his comment with motion, 5 the respondent sought the termination of
the "Plaintiffs" in a Specific Performance and Damages case ("Spouses the case based on the withdrawal of the complaint against him.
Cesar Sustento and Thelma Sustento vs. Wilfreda Pontillan, et al.," Civil
Case no. 2005-03-37, before the Regional Trial Court, Branch 6, The OCA denied the motions of the parties, however, pointing out
Tacloban City, Leyte). In the Unlawful Detainer case, complainants instead that the complainants could not just withdraw the
Spouses Sustento raised as one of their three affirmative defenses [in administrative complaint out of a sudden change of mind;6 and that the
their Answer] the alleged violation of non-forum-shopping rule by the unilateral act of the complainants did not control the Court's exercise of
plaintiff for their failure to disclose the pending case for Specific its disciplinary power. 7 It recommended to the Court the following
Performance in the RTC, Branch 6, Tacloban City, Leyte, involving the actions on the complaint, to wit:
same property subject matter of the ejectment case. On 09 September
2008, Judge Sylvia Z. Pocpoc-Lamoste issued an Order decreeing inter 1. That the instant administrative case be RE-DOCKETED as a regular
alia that "it is not plaintiffs duty to disclose the pendency of the case for administrative matter;
Specific Performance since it was not she who filed the case and [that]
the issues and cause of action of the cases are different x x x." On 29 2.That respondent Judge Frisco T. Lilagan of the Regional Trial Court,
September 2008, herein complainants Spouses Sustento filed an Branch 34, Tacloban City, be DIRECTED to submit a more
Omnibus Motion for a reconsideration of the 09 September 2008 Order. responsive COMMENT to the Complaint dated 05 July 2010 of Spouses
However, in an Order dated 24 November 2008, Judge Pocpoc-Lamoste Cesar A. Sustento and Thelma C. Sustento within a non-extendible
denied the Omnibus Motion. period often (10) days from notice; and

On 26 January 2009, complainants Spouses Sustento filed a Petition for 3. That failure to submit the required Comment within the given period
Review on Certiorari before the Regional Trial Court, Branch 34, shall be considered a WAIVER of his right to file his comment and/or
Tacloban City, Leyte, praying for the annulment of the aforecited Orders related pleadings relative to the complaint.8ChanRoblesVirtualawlibrary
issued by Judge Pocpoc-Lamoste. In an Order dated 03 March 2009,
respondent Judge Frisco T. Lilagan directed private respondents to file In the resolution promulgated on March 21, 2011,9 the Court re-
their comment to the petition. On 31 March 2009, private respondents docketed the case as a regular administrative matter, and directed the
filed their Comment/Answer. Complainants Spouses Sustento followed respondent to submit a more responsive comment vis-a-vis the
suit, filing a rejoinder to Private Respondent's Comments/Answer. complaint.

Almost six (6) months had already elapsed [and only after complainants In his comment dated May 28, 2011,10 the respondent denied liability,
filed a motion for Early Resolution, dated 08 September 2009] before and contended that the petition for certiorari subject of the complaint
respondent Judge Lilagan issued an Order dated 15 September 2009 was a prohibited pleading for being brought against the interlocutory
dismissing the Petition for Certiorari. Complainants Spouses Sustento order issued by MTCC Judge Pocpoc-Lamoste in the accion interdictal;
filed a Motion for Reconsideration. On 01 December 2009, private that, as such, he was not obliged to rule on the petition
respondents' Comment/Opposition to the Motion for Reconsideration for certiorari;11 that his failure to seasonably resolve the motion for
was filed. On 08 December 2009, complainants Spouses Sustento filed reconsideration within the prescribed 90-day period did not amount to
their Reply. gross incompetence on his part because several reasons justified the
delay, namely: (a) his increasing workload;12 (b) his suspension from
On 10 December 2009, respondent Judge Lilagan issued an Order work for three months by virtue of another administrative case filed
deeming the Motion for Reconsideration submitted for resolution. against him;13 (c) the failure of his Clerk III (Ms. Jerlyn Lapesura) to
However, up to the date of the instant administrative matter was filed, remind him of the pendency of the motion for reconsideration; 14and (d)

1
the issuance of the order submitting the motion for reconsideration for motion dated September 8, 2009, he issued his order of September 15,
resolution on December 10, 2009 coincided with "the period of 2009 dismissing the petition for certiorari. In due time, they filed their
euphoria for the Christmas holidays."15 He pleaded for leniency motion for reconsideration. The parties exchanged their written
considering that his lapse concerned the motion for reconsideration submissions on the issue until the respondent judge issued the order of
against the dismissal of the prohibited petition for certiorari.16 He December 10, 2009 deeming the motion for reconsideration submitted
denied being biased in favor of a colleague, MTCC Judge Pocpoc- for resolution. But he did not resolve the motion for reconsideration
Lamoste, the respondent in the petition for certiorari, and insisted that even by the time they filed their administrative complaint against him
such claim was not supported by evidence.17 on July 26, 2010 in the Office of the Court Administrator. 21

On January 26, 2012, the OCA recommended that the respondent be What is obvious is that the respondent judge took too much time in
held guilty of undue delay in resolving the motion for reconsideration; disposing of the petition for certiorariand the ensuing motion for
and that he be meted the penalty of suspension from office for six reconsideration. The delays were plainly violative of the injunction to
months without pay and without other benefits, with warning that a him to act expeditiously on the matters 90 days from their submission.
repetition of the same or similar acts would be dealt with more
severely.18 The respondent judge sought to justify his delay by citing the
voluminous caseload he had as the presiding judge. The justification
Issue does not persuade. Although we are not insensitive to the heavy
caseloads of the trial judges, we have allowed reasonable extensions of
Was the respondent guilty of the less serious offense of undue delay in the periods for the trial judges to resolve their cases. If the heavy
rendering an order by not resolving the complainants' motion for caseload of any judge should preclude his disposition of cases within
reconsideration within the prescribed period? the reglementary period, he should notify the Court, through the Court
Administrator, of the reasons or causes for the delay, and request in
Ruling of the Court writing a reasonable extension of the time to dispose of the affected
cases. No judge should arrogate unto himself the prerogative to extend
the period for deciding cases beyond the mandatory 90-day period.
We adopt the findings of the OCA.
The respondent judge insists that that he did not need to act on the
The complainants' allegation against the respondent judge of being resulting motion for reconsideration because the petition for certiorari,
biased in favor of MTCC Judge Pocpoc-Lamoste, the respondent in the being a prohibited pleading, was a contravention of the rules of
petition for certiorari, was untenable because it was based on procedure.22 Such insistence did not justify his inability to act promptly.
suspicion. We emphasize that every allegation of bias against a judge The fact that the petition for certiorari was a prohibited pleading
should be established with proof of clear and actual bias. Otherwise, furnished him a better reason to act promptly on the petition
the allegation should be rejected as speculative. for certiorari and the motion for reconsideration.

Anent the delay in the resolution of the complainants' motion for We are also not swayed by his other excuses of not having then a legal
reconsideration, we find that the respondent judge was guilty thereof. researcher assigned to him; and of his branch clerk of court being
We remind that decision-making is primordial among the many duties recently appointed. The court's business did not stop because of such
of judges. The speedy disposition of cases thus becomes the primary events; hence, he could not use such excuses to delay his actions on the
aim of the Judiciary, for only thereby may the ends of justice not be pending matters before his court. Verily, the responsibility for the
compromised and the Judiciary may be true to its commitment of prompt and expeditious action on the case, which belonged first and
ensuring to all persons the right to a speedy, impartial and public foremost to him as the presiding judge, could not be shifted to others
trial.19 To pursue this aim, the Court, through the Rules of Court and like the legal researcher or the recently appointed branch clerk of court.
other issuances, has fixed reglementary periods for acting on cases and
matters. Tn respect of decisions, judges are given 90 days from the time The respondent judge gave other justifications, like the time when the
the cases are submitted for determination within which to render their motion for reconsideration was submitted for resolution on December
judgments. Also, Rule 3.05 of Canon 3 of the Code of Judicial 10, 2009 being already in "the period of euphoria for the Christmas
Conduct admonishes all judges to promptly dispose of the court's holidays;"23 and that he was serving his three-month suspension from
business and to decide cases within the required periods. Failure to office relative to another administrative case of undue delay in
render a decision within the 90-day period from the submission of a rendering an order when the case was filed, but resolved the
case for decision is detrimental to the honor and integrity of the judicial complainants' motion for reconsideration as soon as he reported back
office, and constitutes a derogation of the speedy administration of to work. We reject these justifications as unworthy explanations of the
justice.20 Accordingly, any judge who delays the disposition of any case failure to resolve the motion for reconsideration in an expeditious and
or matter beyond the prescribed period without the Court's express seasonal manner simply because they did not place the timely
clearance is liable for gross inefficiency and must be administratively resolution beyond the control of the respondent judge.
sanctioned.
The respondent cannot be spared from the consequences of his undue
On January 26, 2009, the complainants brought in the RTC in Tacloban delays in the case of the complainants. He did not show that he ever
City their petition for certiorari to annul the order issued by MTCC requested the Court for the additional time within which to dispose of
Judge Pocpoc-Lamoste in Civil Case No. 2008-05-CV-08, and the case the matters therein. It then becomes inescapable for him to face the
was assigned to the respondent judge. It was only on March 3, 2009 consequences of his inexplicable inaction. He was guilty of gross
when he directed the private respondent to file the comment on the inefficiency and neglect of duty. Failure to render a decision within the
petition. The comment was filed on March 31, 2009, and the 90-day period from the submission of a case for decision is detrimental
complainants submitted their rejoinder to the comment. Subsequently, to the honor and integrity of the judicial office, and constitutes a
after they requested the resolution of the petition for certiorari by derogation of the speedy administration of justice.24

2
Under Section 9, Rule 140 of the Rules of Court, undue delay in
rendering a decision or order falls within the category of a less serious
charge, and is penalized as follows:

SEC. 11. Sanctions. - x x x

B. If the respondent is guilty of a less serious charge, any of the


following sanctions shall be imposed:

1. Suspension from office without salary and other benefits for not less
than one (1) nor more than three (3) months; or

2. A fine of more than P10,000.00 but not exceeding P20,000.00.

xxxx

This case is not the first time that the respondent is found guilty of an
administrative offense. Aside from the charge dealt with in Daaco v.
Judge Lilagan,25 where he was suspended for three months without pay
for undue delay in rendering an order, he had been penalized five times,
as follows:

1. A.M. No. RTJ-99-1490, for falsification of certificate of service, in


which he was fined PI,000.00 on July 28, 1999;26

2. A.M. No. RTJ-01-1651, for gross ignorance of the law, gross abuse of
judicial authority and willful disobedience to settled jurisprudence, in
which he was fined P10,000.00;27cralawred

3. A.M. No. RTJ-00-1564, for falsification of certificate of service,


maltreatment and violation of the Code of Judicial Conduct, in which he
was reprimanded;28

4. OCA IPI No. 01-1280-RTJ, for gross ignorance of the law, grave abuse
of authority and serious misconduct, in which he was
reprimanded;29 and

5. A.M. No. RTJ-06-1985, for violation of the Constitution and Code of


Judicial Conduct, in which he was reprimanded.30

Although the OCA has recommended the penalty of suspension from


office for six months without salary and other benefits, the Court opts
to impose on the respondent the penalty of fine of P45,000.00, with a
warning that a similar infraction in the future will be more severely
sanctioned.chanrobleslaw

WHEREFORE, the Court FINDS and DECLARES respondent Judge Frisco


T. Lilagan, Presiding Judge of the Regional Trial Court, Branch 34, in
Tacloban City GUILTY of gross inefficiency for his undue delay in
resolving the pending motion for reconsideration; and, ACCORDINGLY,
FINES him in the amount of P45,000.00, with a warning that a similar
infraction in the future will be more severely sanctioned.

SO ORDERED.cralawlawlibrary